It’s a constant complaint in every neighborhood meeting: Drivers are going too fast. For some Atlantans, it’s just a nuisance or a fact of life in a city. For people who use our streets outside of vehicles (that’s everyone at some point), even a small increase in driving speed becomes a matter of life or death in a collision.
In 2018, 6,283 pedestrians and 857 cyclists were killed in the U.S. That means a pedestrian or cyclist was killed somewhere in the U.S. every 73 minutes. That number is the highest it has been in 30 years, even though overall traffic fatalities went down slightly last year. This doesn’t include an unknown number of scooter-related fatalities since they rolled out nationwide since 2018.
On top of that, children, older adults, and people of color face a disproportionate risk of injury and death walking on our streets. This is a serious issue in Georgia. Our state moved from #10 to #6 in a national ranking of pedestrian danger based on fatalities from 2008 to 2017.
Atlanta stands out when it comes to deaths in pedestrian crashes by population. In 2017, Atlanta ranked 23rd out of the 175 largest cities in the nation for our pedestrian fatality rate: that’s how many pedestrians were killed as a percentage of total traffic fatalities. What that number tells us is that pedestrians are especially vulnerable in our city.
Slower streets are safer and better for people.
It’s simple: The faster a driver is going in a collision, the more likely a pedestrian will be killed or seriously injured. That seems obvious, but it’s important to understand that a small change in speed can have a significant difference in the outcome. From a driver’s perspective, the difference between 15 mph and 30 mph is a light tap on the gas pedal. For a person walking across the street, a small change in speed can be the difference between a bad day and a life-changing injury or death.
Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety finds that the risk of severe injury or death of a pedestrian quickly increases with speed.
The risk for children and elderly pedestrians is even greater at lower speeds. The animated graphic below was created by ProPublica from the same AAA data:
On top of that, the popularity of SUVs brings a higher risk of injury and death when compared to conventional cars, in part because it’s more likely that pedestrians will be run over rather than roll up onto the hood. We’ll save the topic of distracted driving for another day (it’s not good).
It’s not only the force at which a driver strikes a pedestrian that is important. Higher speeds reduce the sight distance and reaction time a driver needs to avoid a collision in the first place. The images below show a driver’s field of vision at different speeds. When speed goes up, it’s more difficult for drivers to see and respond to objects and people outside that view.
(Source: NACTO Urban Street Design Guide)
Reducing speed limits is an effective way to reduce speed.
Cities across the United States and the world are reducing speed limits as one way to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries. Vision Zero is an international movement that Atlanta must join if we are going to truly realize our commitments to equity, mobility, and sustainability. That’s why speed limits and Vision Zero are important parts of Atlanta Bicycle Coalition’s policy platform.
By reducing the speed limit, top outlier speeds are reduced. In Boston, default speed limits on most local streets were set at 25 mph. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found the odds of drivers exceeding 35 mph fell by almost 30%. In Seattle, the city has established 25mph speed limits on all its arterial streets and 20 mph on all its local streets. In a pilot study in Springfield, Missouri, reducing the speed limit in some neighborhoods from 30 mph to 25 mph had a proven effect of slightly slowing down all driver speeds, even with no other street changes.
Citywide speed limits are still a relatively new trend in the United States and it will take more time to see data on their benefits. There is a large body of evidence in other countries showing the safety benefits of reduced speed limits. In Bristol, UK, researchers found a 63% reduction in fatal injuries since a city-wide 20 mph (30 kph) speed limit was enacted.
Lower speeds don’t necessarily mean it will take longer to get where you’re going in a city. During the times of day when traffic in Atlanta is the most congested, speeds on many streets average less than 25 mph. What's more, 25 mph allows vehicles to travel a more consistent pace with fewer stops and starts, smoothing traffic flow. In fact, in congested conditions, traffic can flow better at lower speeds. Often in Atlanta, drivers are only driving at high speeds between traffic lights, which is both unsafe and inefficient.
Redesigning streets takes a lot of time and money. We will continue to advocate aggressively for engineering solutions to make our streets safer, including protected lanes, crosswalks, traffic calming, signal phasing, and much more. Lower speed limits won’t solve everything, but lower speed limits will help save lives right now while we continue investing in the future.
It's time to adopt safe speed limits in Atlanta.
Join us and our partners in calling on the City of Atlanta to reduce the speed limit on city streets to 25 mph.
Center Hill Neighborhood Association75 supportsAdd SUPPORT
The city of Atlanta has approved permits for 12,000 scooters, and thousands of people ride scooters each day. This highly visible and growing demand for transportation options beyond cars requires changes to the street to create safe spaces for scooters. Fortunately, bikes and scooters have a great deal in common, including benefiting from the same kinds of infrastructure - lanes separated from motor vehicles.
To provide safe travel for people on bikes and scooters, we need to connect and protect a network of "LIT" lanes. We use LIT to stand for Light Individual Transportation, what some people call scooters and bikes, or micromobility.
Park Place protected lane 2015 (R. Serna) & 2019 (D. Givens)
The city of Atlanta has some 118 miles of bike lanes today but is missing a core network in the busiest parts of town.
What's more, many of our lanes fail to protect riders. Lanes are littered with debris and trash, faded to the point of disappearing or are blocked by delivery trucks. We all recognize that a stripe of paint that often ends suddenly, right where you need it the most, is not enough.
That’s why we applaud the City of Atlanta’s commitment to connecting and protecting lanes for people on bikes and scooters announced by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms Friday, August 16.
"In the next 30 days, we plan to implement changes to our streets to better protect everyone. We will use temporary barriers, painted demarcations and any tool we can find to complement our growing network of 118 miles of dedicated space for bikes and scooters."
That's exactly the kind of rapid response we called for following the death of the fourth person riding a scooter in the Atlanta area this year.
Cascade Avenue 2019
Yet we can’t fail to notice that while people riding scooters are attracting a great deal of attention right now, people walking, biking, and waiting for the bus have been overexposed to unsafe streets for decades.
Building safer streets should start with the communities facing the greatest exposure to harm today. In a city like Atlanta, where economic inequity is among the highest in the country, the City’s ONE Atlanta vision of an affordable, resilient, and equitable Atlanta must be reflected in the allocation of space on city streets.
Women and people of color are riding scooters in high numbers, according to one scooter company. People earning $25,000 to $50,000 a year are most enthusiastic about scooters and other LIT devices, while those making more than $200,000 are the least, according to transportation researchers. And women are more likely to support micromobility than men.
The City of Atlanta is among a growing number of cities who have adopted transportation plans emphasizing safety, equity, and mobility.
Taking fast measures to change how space on city streets is allocated is essential to our growth and maturation as a city.